Ottawa pianist John Kofi Dapaah revisits his artistic career

The Ottawa Pops Orchestra’s Stories Through Music Series engages different members of our community by sharing a playlist of their favourite songs and telling a story about the music that is so important to them. This week, we are excited to share excellent music and stories from multitalented pianist John Kofi Dapaah. Check out his interview below where he discusses the music and memories that inspired his career.

Fast Facts
  • John Kofi Dapaah’s musical exploration began in Ghana with his musical parents, and continued in Japan as a child, where his extensive training in classical music began
  • Music was a powerful way for John to communicate and connect with others in a non-verbal way as he dealt with a stutter as a child.
  • He is mainly a solo artist but also regularly plays in a jazz duo (with Roxanne Goodman) and trio (with J. P. Lapensée and Jamie Holmes)
  • John is a passionate and dedicated teacher to many piano students and enjoys nurturing a love of music in his students as his parents did when he was a child
  • His debut solo album, Reflections, and his second album "Have yourself a Jazzy Little Christmas" (with Michael Curtis Hanna, Roxanne Goodman and John Dapaah Trio) are available on all major digital platforms as well as hard copies for order on his website

John Kofi Dapaah is here to push boundaries and make music accessible across the genres of classical and jazz. Working as a solo pianist in concert and with orchestras, as well as collaboratively with duos and trios, John is a multitalented musician who has been playing for over 24 years.

Read on to discover his impressive performance career and exactly what music inspired him along the way:

Could you share with us some of your career highlights?

There is a lot to love about my musical journey, so far!

I have performed in recitals and concerts in Japan, Austria and throughout Canada; in recital series such as Les Grands Concerts, Cathedral Arts Series, Jugend am Klavier and L’Oasis Musicale to name a few. I made my orchestral debut with the Gatineau Conservatory Orchestra in a concert playing Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 23 in A major, KV 488. Most recently, I performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no. 1 with the Georgian Bay Symphony. I have also performed for dignitaries such as the former Governor Generals of Canada; Michaëlle Jean and the David Johnston, and the Austrian Ambassador to Canada. My composition for string quartet was performed with choreography at the National Arts Centre here in Ottawa.

Music has taken me on a voyage from Ghana, to Japan; Canada, and to Austria. It has brought me to reflect on a range of styles including classical, jazz and gospel piano. I began my classical piano studies with Tabuchi Masako in Muroran, Japan; where my father was completing his graduate studies. After my family relocated to Canada, I continued my studies independently. I then went on to obtain my Bachelor’s in music at Carleton University. At Carleton, I gained the opportunity to study with jazz pianists Steve Boudreau and Mark Ferguson; as well as classical pianists Verna Jacobson and Nicole Presentey. I pursued the final year of my undergraduate music studies at the Kunstuniversität Graz in Graz, Austria. While in Graz, I studied with Dr. Eike Straub. After graduating from Carleton, I then obtained my Master’s with Marina Mdivani, pupil of Emil Gilels, at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University. I have played in masterclasses for Minsoo Sohnn, Kyoko Hashimoto, and Corlenia Herrmann among others.

It’s been busy but so rewarding!

We know that you’ve released two albums, now. Could you tell us a bit about them?

I released my first solo debut album, Reflections, in 2018 with pieces from Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Bach and Petri! The album consists of some of the most loved compositions of the romantic era, and the final piece is an arrangement of J. S. Bach’s composition by the Dutch pianist, Egon Petri. The album is really a nostalgic exploration of repertoire that is very dear to me. It pushed me out of my comfort zone but I’m so happy to have this album to continue sharing my music with the world.

I’ve discovered my own voice and sound and Reflections captures that, perfectly.

My second album that was done with Michael Curtis Hanna, Roxanne Goodman and the John Dapaah Trio was released this last Christmas. It’s called "Have yourself a Jazzy Little Christmas" and is also available on my site!

What role does music play in your life as a performer and a listener?

Music plays a huge role in every aspect of my life. There's always some kind of music playing at my house - whether we're having a family dance session, doing some work, or just hanging out. As a performer it's how I express myself and hopefully uplift my audiences through my performances.

Music has always been an outlet for me to express myself, so I hope to keep reaching people who feel unheard through song. I want to connect with those who feel voiceless, marginalized or invisible and provide an outlet for them to escape to or be comforted by.

Tell us about a favourite performance of yours

During the Christmas season of 2018, my family and I went to visit my cousin and her family in New Jersey. While there we went to the Smoke Jazz Club in Manhattan (NY) for dinner and a show. After the house band finished their set, they invited other musicians to come jam with them. My cousin's husband volunteered me as I was reluctant.

That ended up being one of the highlights of the trip and also one of my favourite (unexpected) performances.

Why did you choose the playlist you did? Are there any songs that stand out to you as an inspiration or have any interesting stories behind them?

Florence Price - Piano Sonata in E minor

I discovered Florence Price and her compositions only a few years ago. It was refreshing to learn of the many compositions by people of color in a genre that is not always inclusive of black performers and composers. I got my hands on the score and started working through it. I was invited to play in the first ever International Florence Price Festival which was to take place in Washington this August and I was hoping to perform this Sonata. Of course, the plans were changed due to COVID-19. I look forward to being a part of this in the near future.

PJ Morton ft. Yebba - How Deep is Your Love

I came across PJ a couple of years ago while browsing YouTube. I have been a fan ever since. My wife and I went to see him live at the Montreal Jazz festival last summer. It was an unforgettable experience.

SIMI – Duduke

My daughter and I have morning dance sessions on most days while making breakfast. This song is one of our favourites and is a part of the dance set.

Jacob Collier - It Don't Matter

This record just grooves. Period.

Rachmaninoff - Sonata for Cello and Piano (3rd mov't)

I played this piece with Raphael Weinroth-Browne (an amazing Ottawa cellist and composer) in my concert series Studio Sessions last year. This composition is one of my favourite works for chamber music.

Israel Houghton ft. Elevation Worship - Do it again & Alpha and Omega

I'm a believer in Jesus Christ and this is one worship song that I've been listening to lately.

What is the message you want this music to leave with readers/listeners?

Everything is going to be alright. Stay positive, be kind, take care of yourselves and loved ones. Finally, let loose and have a dance session (or two) everyday :)

And for those who are interested, I'm doing a live stream concert this Saturday afternoon, August 8th, with Michael Anthony Hanna through my Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/JohnKofiDapaah. Join us online for some great music!

Follow John Dapaah:
John Dapaah's Playlist

Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to never miss a playlist from our Stories Through Music Series.